Disuniting colours of fanaticism

on Monday, September 8, 2008

Many, in India and other parts of the world, would have us believe that religious fundamentalism has only one colour, that of Islamic green. The vicious attacks on Christians and Christian institutions — including orphanages — instigated by VHP activists in Orissa have savagely shown that such fanaticism comes in many colours, including that of Hindu saffron. Not that this needed further proof, after the Gujarat riots of 2002 which VHP leaders had vindicated with the sacrilegious claim that the atrocities committed “had the blessings of Lord Rama”. 
    Fundamentalism — the hijacking of a faith to promote an exclusionist agenda, often through violent means — is a trans-credal phenomenon: it doesn’t begin or end within the confines of one belief system but is common to all. There are Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and atheist fundamentalists (sometimes called communist), not to mention so-called ‘pro-life’ fundamentalists who murder people who work in legal abortion clinics. 
    Though no credo has a monopoly over fundamentalism, after 9/11 the word (often interchanged with ‘terrorism’) has been hyphenated with the word ‘Islamic’. It is often urged that ‘moderate’ Muslims must stand up and be counted as a correc
tive influence on their radical co-religionists. So, in the current context of Orissa (and earlier of Gujarat) should only moderate Hindus denounce the horrors that have been perpetrated in the name of their religion? No. Moderates of all faiths — including that of moderation itself, which surely is the most beleaguered of faiths in an increasingly divisive world — must unite in condemnation of such acts. 
    The goal of fundamentalists, of any stripe, is to disunite and destroy our common humanity. Such subversion can only be countered by a refusal to ghettoise the response by making it the responsibility of one particular faith. Fundamentalism is based on the premise of extreme exclusion, the creation of a demonised Other; the opposing voice of moderation must base itself on the principle of inclusivism, the affirmation of a pluralist identity. 
    That is why the often-repeated call to ban organisations which allegedly are fundamentalist in nature — be it SIMI or the RSS (progenitor of the VHP) — make for a bad politics of moderation, necessary though such proscriptions may seem at times. (The RSS has been banned thrice in India: after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi; during the Emergency; and after the demolition of the Babri masjid. In each case, the ban was lifted by the Supreme Court.) 
    Bans go against the basic nature of both democracy and moderation, which many might say are one and the same thing. A ban is another way of saying that fundamentalism won, that it achieved its objective of divisive exclusionism; it turned moderation into a mirror image of prohibitory fanaticism. 
    The Vatican has come out strongly against the carnage in Orissa. Let’s hear it now from the leaders and practitioners of other faiths. But most of all, from those who profess belief in that ultimate credo: that no moderate is an island, entire of itself. 

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